Review of Development: SBY’s Eroded Presidency


The first quarter of 2011 shows how pathetic and unsatisfactory is the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) presidency. He could claimed as the first democratically elected president, but his mediocrity in leadership has brought many unnecessary problems for most Indonesian. Despite his lacking of decisiveness and resoluteness, he often could not respond challenges, problems, and opportunities timely and appropriately. He tended to delay making decisions, especially relating to major issues. He preferred to discuss most issues in a lengthy and direction-less fashion through various government ‘retreat’ programs and coordination and cabinet meetings. Though he is on his second, last term of presidency, SBY remains not an effective leader to build lasting legacies. His list of records on solving repeated people’s problems, envisioning breakthroughs, or putting right people on right position is not quite impressive.

During this period, politics became rather wild because of SBY’s failures to manage his authority and popular mandate. His convincing one round, more than 60 percent of popular vote victory in the 2009 presidential election evaporated quickly. In less than 2 years, he emerged just like a political pariah where his coalition members dared to challenge his positions in the House of Representatives (DPR-RI) on the Century Bank scandal last year and on the anti-tax mafia investigation initiative in March. Then, he was chickened out to punish defectors, the Golkar party and the Justice and Welfare Party (PKS), though politicians from his main backer Democratic Party (PD) strongly urged for reshuffling cabinet by kicking out at least PKS from the coalition. The heightened political dynamics since the show down in the DPR-RI and the demand for cabinet reshuffle has fueled speculations and uncertainties that surely disturbed government officials in fulfilling their duties. Consequently, people must suffer from the sinking ship, the mess and at inter-island ferry, the attacks toward minorities and Ahmadiyah sect, and others.

The Aborted Bid for Presidential Nomination of Madame Yudhoyono

The political year of 2011 started with rather suicidal statement by a PD politician, Ruhut Sitompul. A former comedian and now positions himself as the party spokesperson, he stated at the Madame Kristiani Herawati Yudhoyono, popularly known as Ibu Ani, was a strong contender for presidential election in 2014, and therefore PD should nominate her on the ground that she was the most senior party figure after SBY himself. Sitompul argued that the first lady was capable leader, serving as the deputy general chairman of PD in 2004 and had been a successful company and advisor for President SBY. She was the founder of Mutu Manikam Nusantara Foundation, which promotes traditional handicraft, education, and small and medium business empowerment.

For Sitompul, she has been a presidential apprentice for seven years, making her experience and knowledge of state affairs very valuable. As for her running mate, Sitompul proposed the tycoon Golkar Party Chairman, Aburizal Bakrie, or the daughter of opposition leader, Puan Maharani. To make things serious, it was reported that senior PD politicians has established a campaign team for the first lady, under the coordination of a former Minister of Sport and Youth during the Soeharto era who now becomes a PD legislature, Hayono Isman.

he was chickened out to punish defectors, the Golkar party and the Justice and Welfare Party (PKS).


Sitompul’s statement definitely fuelled strong responses from various fronts. For politicians, the statement was taken seriously as there had been rumors of a dynasty making within the first lady’s family. As the daughter of the well-known Indonesian Kopassus special forces commander in 1965, Lt. Gen. Sarwo Edi Wibowo, who successfully crushed the so-called communist coup, Ibu Ani was perceived to play a central role in putting her siblings, in laws, and close relatives and friends into various strategic position, from the director of stated-owned Bank, DPR-RI member, army’s strategic command post, to cabinet minister as welle as into government contracts and concessions. Potential candidates and many politicians joined the chorus by praising the move of lambasting Sitompul and PD for showing their raw ambition to power while many people were still under heavy burdens from poverty and unemployment.

Why is such hurry to test her name into public? Sitompul might have a completely different, unorthodox political calculation when putting this issue into public attention. There are still 3.5 years to the next presidential election, and SBY approval rating was declining recently. Did he bring up the issue to rally president’s loyalists and supporters on the one hand, and to ‘intimidate’ potential challengers in the future? With the loss of Century Bank scandal probe in the DPR in 2010, PD was pretty much demoralized as they felt being betrayed by its coalition’s partners, but they could not do more to punish them. Instead, PD must accept that Aburizal Bakrie was put as the daily coordinator of the joint secretariat of the government coalition by President SBY in his capacity of the patron of PD.

Therefore, Sitompul move could be seen as a part of a strategy to Increase the morale and stature of PD that was like a political pariah in 2010. By declaring that PD was the most ready and solid party to contest in the next election, internally this could limit political maneuvers by potential contenders as they would not be dare to challenge President SBY’s wife openly and frontally. Internally, the issue was also important to calm down increasing moves among different fractions in preparing successor of SBY. As the largest party, PD surely wants to maintain its victory and this would be easily achieved if PD could already identify the potential presidential candidate(s).

President SBY, as usual, looked shocked with the statement, expressed his disagreement, and stated that he did not have thought or more over plan to encourage his wife to run in the next presidential election. He asked PD politicians to stop controversy as he was accused of being hypocritical with the idea of his wife becoming his successor. Previously in various occasions, president SBY expressed his concern with the blossoming of political dynasty in the local elections, in which the wife succeeded the husband as the local leader, or the family members occupied different political offices. He even criticized Governor of Yogyakarta Special Region, Hamengkubuwono X, who along with majority of local people wanted greater autonomy from the central government, by stating that there is no place for monarchy in the Indonesia’s democratic system. Therefore, the issue of candidacy for the first lady was a more problem than calculated political move for President SBY, though many still believed that the campaign team for Ibu Ani continues to be active in preparing for the right time to officially launch this bid. God knows that Indonesia might have local Evita Peron in the near future.

Minorities and Indonesia’s Pluralism under Attack

Just about the noisy controversy of Madame Yudhoyono’s presidential bid subsided, Indonesia was rocked with attacks on Ahmadiyah followers in Cikesik, Pandeglang in Banten Province on February 6th, and then two days later three churches in Temanggung in Central Java were destroyed by angry mob. These two incidents seemed did not occur in isolation, though no connection could be established so far. Attacks toward minorities also occurred in other areas, like the attack towards small Shiite boarding school in Pasuruan, the closure of a Christian church in Bogor by local Islamic hardliner group, and the lenient sentences for Islamic hard-liners who stabbed Christian Priest in Ciketing, Bekasi in West Java Province last year. The attack towards Ahmadiyah followers and assets had intensified in the last several years, although this sect has been spreading in Indonesia since early 1920s. the attack in Ciketing killed three Ahmadis and five seriously injured, while incident in Temanggung caused injuries to some Priests teacher and locals.

The intensification of attacks toward Ahmadiyah could not be separated from the fact that the government did not guarantee fully the rights to worship for religious followers in Indonesia. Instead of punishing attackers and hard-liner organizations like the notorious ISLAMIC Defender Front (Front Pembela Islam/FPI) or the Indonesia Holy Fighter Assembly (Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia/MMI), the government issued the joint ministerial decree last year on Ahmadiyah that basically banned Ahmadis to perform religious rituals openly, show identity in all its assets and activities, and to preach outside its communities. With followers numbered around hundred thousand people scattered all over the country, Ahmadiyah owned mosques, boarding schools, and other properties and assets that were also aimed to be seized by the hard-liners. But Ahmadis rejected them and continued to pray according to their own ways.

The situation worsened lately with the issuance of governor’s decrees to strengthen the joint ministerial decree. Started from East Java, several province have already issued or planned to issue a similar decree. On the other hand, the call from President SBY to dissolve mass organizations that committed anarchism and violence was just blown with the wind. No stern measures so far from the government apparatuses towards these hard-liners, though FPI once threatened to mobilized people to topple the SBY government if the organization would dissolved. SBY government seemed powerless and toothless to respond militant organizations like FPI that had involved in various attacks toward night clubs, arts, magazine office, and activists from interfaith dialogue in the past.

In response to such alarming trend on the protection of minorities in Indonesia, President SBY did not dare to take bold steps. He only instructed the Indonesian police to arrest all perpetrators, but failed to make a strong signal that he seriously wanted to protect pluralism and minorities. Unlike former President Abdurrahman Wahid, who is known as the father of pluralism for his staunch position to defend minorities, President SBY was afraid to confront militants as he could be easily stigmatized as anti-Islam. Although he has no credential on religious matter, President SBY should draw a clear line between the forces that threatened Indonesia’s pluralism and the rest who would like to see religious harmony in the country. This showed that President SBY had failed to meet the basic managerial skill of an effective leader, which is to manage trust. He was chosen more than 60 percent of voters and they gave trust to him to run the country according the constitution which guarantees basic civil and political rights of every citizen. But he seemed to be too accommodative to hard-liners and did not try enough to punish them for their shameful and often violence behavior.

LIES, More Lies, and the SBY Government: “Amen”

In a different front, when the controversy over the nomination over Ibu Ani was still on the high gear and the investigation of Gayus tax scandal case was in snail-paced progress, a group of religious leaders strongly criticized SBY Government for committing 18 public lies so far. This criticism rightly stabbed SBY’s highly morality claim as they came from noted religious leaders like the former and the current chairs of Muhammadiyah organization Syafii Ma’arif and Din Syamsuddin, founder of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) Djohan Effendi, Chair of the Communion of Indonesian Churches (PGI) Andreas Yewangoe, head of the Indonesian Council of Bishop (KWI) Martinus Situmorang, Senior Indonesian Buddhist monk Sri Pannyavaro Mahathera, Hindu priest I Nyoman Udayana Sangging, Catholic priest and philosopher Frans Magnis-Suseno, and others.

In the view of these religious leaders and activists who supported this moral movement to remind the government of many serious problems, the SBY government has committed nine public lines in the past, and nine new public lies. The old nine public lies included poverty statistics in which government always claimed that there have been a decreasing number of poor people, food and energy security and independence, access to basic needs, the fight against terrorism, human rights protection, education budget, adequate settlement for Lapindo mudflow victims in East Java, case handling on gold mine Newmont which accused for polluting the sea, and Freeport’s unfulfilled contract renegotiation promised in 2006. Meanwhile, the new public lies were related to issues on religious freedom, freedom of the press, protection of migrants workers, government transparency, the fights against corruption, the handling of suspicious bank accounts of police generals, clean politics, handling of the judiciary mafia case, and the Indonesian sovereignty.

The working committee that supported the religious leaders noted these facts: first, the former police chief reported that there were 40 violent cases against religious minorities done by militant mass organization in 2009, and the in the 2010 there were 49 cases and specifically there were 33 attacks in the name of religion; second, the Indonesian Legal Aid institute on the Press (LBH Press) noted that there were 56 cases of violence towards journalists in 2009, but in 2010 the figure increased to 56 cases; third, president SBY once promised to give cell-phone to every migrant worker as a part of their protection measures, but no realization; fourth, on transparency, the government was accused of lying about the reasons of former minister of Finance Sri Mulyani Indrawati’s resignation; fifth, President SBY promised many times to lead the fight against corruption, but President SBY’s statements that were analyzed by the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) that could be classified as supporting this effort were only 24 percent; sixth, on the suspicious piggy bank account of police generals, there was no conclusive investigation and the cases were closed by two police chiefs; seventh, the President SBY promised to conduct cleans politics, but his Democratic Party persuaded and put the disgrace former member of election commission Andi Nurpati into its central board; eighth, the government and the police chief promised to solved Gayus’ foreign trips in ten days, but no significant progress after the deadline, and lastly, on the Indonesian sovereignty, the government promised to investigate the arrest of three officers of the Maritime and Fisheries Affairs Ministry in Malaysia, but no report to the public so far.

Sumber: Tempo

a group of religious leaders strongly criticized SBY Government for committing 18 public lies so far.

As this criticism came from non-political actors who have special place in the society due their moral and ethical authority, President SBY and his cabinet members reacted immaturely. Eight days later on January 18, President SBY invited religious leaders for a talk in the presidential palace, but noted leaders like Syafii Ma’arif and Nahdlatul Ulama deputy chair Sholahuddin Wahid refused to attend. The meeting that was attended by dozens figures and high ranking officials did not arrive to the mutual understanding as the government officials and President SBY himself tried to defend their failures or mediocre performance on issues being raised by religious leaders. Even worse, the Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam slammed religious leaders’ critics of the government’s performance with derogatory attack that they were just like “scavenging black crows in the skins of white doves.”

Forgetting the semantics, did the government commit to the public lie? In a bland word, public lies are politically correct to describe the government’s handling on those issues. Just like other politicians who have committed public lies as they could not or do not want to fulfill their campaign promises, the government and the President SBY have been busy with pencitraan or the politics of images to maintain its popularity. Most government policies did not genuinely aim to address problems, but seemed like to polish government’s inadequacies to deliver public services and public goods, and especially to materialize all plans and commitments that have been openly stated to the public. It is rather pathetic that the SBY leadership actually was the main factor that contributed to the worsening situation in Indonesia as he did not govern, but he merely manage to the government with business as usual type of mentality. Therefore, it is indeed understood that public resentment and disappointment towards the government and President SBY must be channeled, and the most authoritative channel to remind the government is surely through the voices of religious leaders who did not have direct political interests.

The imbeciles responses, like those of Dipo Alam, strengthened public concerns that there were serious problems with how the country has been run. The government and President SBY personally thought they have worked hard, 24-7 most of the time, with often meetings on holidays to discuss solutions for people’s problems. But people’s economic hardship remained high, and cases of malnutrition, famine, and other humans tragedies occurred in many places. The government also claimed based on statistical data that they succeeded in reducing poverty, stating that in latest figure there were only 31 million people liv eunder poverty line. But the government also said that there were more than 70 million people who were eligible for the rice program for low income earners and 76.4 million people who were eligible for income health subsidy. Note that 31 million figure is based on the macro-level poverty measurement (the national poverty rate) while the 70 and 76.4 million figures are based on micro level poverty measurement for distribution purposes such as direct cash transfers (the Social Safety Net Program Data – Pendataan Program Perlindungan Sosial or PPLS in 2005,2008) that includes not only the “very poor” and “poor” but also the “almost poor” (those who are just above the poverty line). This means that although one may argue that to say there are 31 million poor in Indonesia is not a lie, it is not the whole truth either since the “almost poor” people are very easy to fall below the poverty line in times of adverse economic shocks. Therefore, strong criticism from religious leaders using the framework of ‘the government has committed public lies” is very tactical and effective as a wake-up call for the government to change their habit and routine operation. But it seems that the government is too busy to defend its ‘achievements’ and ‘good name’, and so there will not be any significant change in the near future.

The Anti –Tax Mafia and Cabinet Reshuffle Brouhaha

When issues of presidential candidates, religious attacks, and government lies were still boiling, the public must witness another political kow-tow among elites that surely did not affect to the improvement of people’s welfare. This was about the establishment of tax inquiry special committee in DPR-RI. Amidst the continuation of the investigation over Gayus tax scandal in which he had committed bribery, giving false information, and graft, several politicians from the Democratic Party initially submitted the proposal for the establishment of tax inquiry special committee that was aimed to uncover tax mafia operation behind Gayus’ case that implicated 151 big corporations, including three giants coal mining corporations owned by Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie. Then politicians from Golkar Party and PKS, two coalition members, became so enthusiastic to support the proposal. Suddenly high ranking officials of PD and President SBY’s inner circle realized that the special committee on the anti-tax mafia could be used by the Golkar Party as a political laundry mechanism to clean up mistakes and fraud committed by Bakrie’s companies. PD bosses instructed their politicians to withdraw the proposal, but other politicians from Golkar Party, PKS PDIP, and Hanura continued to support it.

Consequently, there was a strong division among coalition members. While PD with PAN, PPP, and PKB (though two of its politicians detecting to support the proposal later on) were strongly against the establishment of tax inquiry committee, other parties rallied to materialize it. For opposition parties, this inquiry committee could also be used to put more pressures and delegitimizing factors on the government that failed to solve the tax scandals. For PKS, the motive remained unclear. If the committee could be materialized, PKS might be able to use it as a leverage to put more pressures on President SBY to accommodate more its interests if President SBY wanted to have a stable government until his term ends in 2014. The show-down among coalition members over this proposal reminded of the coalition conflict in early 2010 over the Century Bank scandal that troubled the government stability.

In the beginning, President SBY responded the motion by issuing 12 points of a written presidential instruction for a swift and measurable resolution to the Gayus scandal that implicated officials from various government agencies and high-ranking police officers on January 18. The 12 tasks on the presidential instruction included: first, the National Police, the Finance Ministry, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Law and Human Rights Ministry must speed up their investigations into the Gayus case; second, improve synergy between law enforcement officers and other institutions, involve the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, the Corruption Eradication Commission and the Anti-Judicial Mafia Taskforce in the handling of the case; third, carry out a performance evaluation and audit of the financial reports of the institutions connected to the case; fourth, enforce the law without exceptions; fifth, take a reverse onus (shift the onus of providing evidence onto the suspect) as a new approach; sixth, secure and retrieve funds and assets from Gayus; seventh, sanction officers found guilty of involvement in the case with administrative sanctions, including demotion and dismissal; eighth, institutions involved in the case must adhere to a one-month deadline to reposition their officers; ninth, review the current system and repair any loopholes found; tenth, ministers must provide details about the progress of the Gayus case; eleventh, cabinet ministers must submit periodical reports directly to the President; and lastly, Vice President Boediono assisted by the Anti-judicial Mafia Taskforce to monitor the implementation of the presidential instructions.

The instructions, however, did not affect much of the investigation as all related parties dealing with the case worked as usual, and the first coordination meeting led by Vice President Boediono was held weeks after the issuance of the instruction. The deadline for reposition of officials was ignored mostly by ministers and other high-ranking officials, and President SBY again did not dare to enforce his authority. He showed again how weak and ineffective was his leadership and presidency. He did not sanction his high-ranking officials for their failures to fulfill his official instruction.

Therefore, politicians saw his weaknesses and indecisiveness as a strong point to advance the establishment of the tax inquiry committee to help uncover the tax mafia in Indonesia. Though this was a noble effort, but inquiry committee in the DPR-RI is a political process, and therefore it could be used for political purposes. The showdown over the establishment of a special tax inquiry committee culminated in the voting during a plenary session. With 530 out of 560 DPR-RI members attended the session, the government supporters that rejected the establishment of tax inquiry committee won the voting by a mere two votes, with 266 votes versus 264 votes for those who supported the tax inquiry. The politicians from Golkar Party, PKS, and two PKB members (Lily Wahid and Effendy Choirie) defected from their coalition partners, while Gerindra surprisingly helped the government coalition to win the voting.

The lost of Golkar Party and PKS in the voting over the tax inquiry committee escalated the demand for the removal of ministers from these parties. PD politicians strongly urged President SBY to punish the defectors and give reward to Gerindra by giving it several cabinet positions. President SBY himself have delayed cabinet reshuffle though he already received evaluation report of cabinet minister con ducted by an official presidential team led by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto. Thus, President SBY actually had a real opportunity and reason to conduct cabinet reshuffle for replacing incapable ministers or those who were implicated with various personal affairs. But, he again was slow to make a bold decision. Instead of using the moment to advance his agenda for revitalizing cabinet, he was busy with meetings with top party leaders on how to respond the defection and problems within his coalition. Until mid-March, he still did not make decision, arguing that he did not intend to conduct cabinet reshuffle and he did not want to be dictated on using his prerogative rights to fire and hire ministers. He even promised to keep Golkar Party in the coalition after meeting with Aburizal Bakrie. This surely caused disappointment and demoralization among his loyalists, as they wanted to have a minimum winning coalition so that their share in cabinet will increase.

President SBY’s indecisiveness and irresoluteness will surely cause more political problems in the near future. With the coming election in 2014 is approaching fast and more big problems like the increasing global oil price are imminent, coalition will never be stable. Theoretically, coalition under presidential system with two political blocks, one in the government and the other one in opposition, defection will always likely to occur. Opposition will always encourage defection to put more pressures to the government, while coalition members will always have coordination problems on how to solve problems and to share the credits. With no clarity of responsibility, it is always easier for PD to claim the government success alone, while when there are problems, all coalition members must share the burdens. Therefore, the failure of President SBY to punish defection this time will not strengthen the discipline within coalition. In the near future, similar rifts and conflicts will likely occur again.

WikiLeaks: SBY Abused Power?

Before the talks and political moves related to the cabinet reshuffle subsided, when President SBY was still having headache to deal with his coalition, two newspapers in Australia (The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald) run reports based on diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks on March 11. In the reports, SBY was accused of abusing

his power in the past to intervene in the legal prosecution of Taufik Kiemas, the former first gentleman and currently the Speaker of People’s Consultative Assembly, in an alleged graft case around infrastructure projects in several locations in Indonesia during the Megawati presidency in 2001-2003. From the cables from the US. Diplomats in Indonesia sent to the State Department, there were also information about the excessive role of the first lady as the most influential person for President SBY, that the first lady tried to accumulate wealth inappropriately by setting up several companies after SBY took office, and other stories.

Surprisingly, the reports mentioned names from the inner circle of President SBY or a high ranking intelligence officer as the source of information. It is common for diplomats to gather information from various sources and then report it to their headquarters. Therefore, the WikiLeaks documents opened up a new front of problem faced by President SBY, that he now must also deal with his inner circle. Upon knowing the WikiLeaks reports, he was reported as shocked and in disbelief. The first lady even cried for such an accusation. President SBY rejected all claims. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and other officials also tried to defuse the problem by rejecting all corruption and abuse of power claims. Similarly, the U.S. Ambassador in Jakarta also held press conference regretting the reports while he did not deny nor confirm the information. But, as there are more cables that have not yet reported, there might be more turbulences and drama over the controversies of information given by President SBY’s inner circle to the US diplomats in the past.

Whether SBY abused power or not in the past, history will tell someday. But, it is always possible for a president who assumed power after a turbulent political transition to intervene the legal system in order to prevent political instability or disharmony. President SBY is a typical consensual leader who tries to keep political stability and maintain popularity through accommodative politics. He does not want to be perceived as a leader with ambition to take revenge for his opponents. In the context of WikiLeaks reports, all information given to the US. Diplomats strengthened indication of many abuses in the past or problems with his leadership. Therefore, it is urgent for President SBY to do damage control in order to prevent his popularity and legitimacy to fall down further. But with his personality, it will not be likely that there will be punishment for those who betrayed him in the past by saying bad things about him and his family to the U.S. and might be to other diplomats.

Concluding Notes

The first quarter of 2011 was surely not the good time for President SBY, and moreover for Indonesian people in general. Politics was full with conflict, betrayal, insubordination, and negligence that left Indonesian people to suffer from non-performing government. In societal level, religious conflicts and attacks toward minorities occurred with government failed to perform its basic function to protect society. Public distrust and disappointment toward the SBY presidency seemed to increase day by day as President SBY did not have courage and boldness to take stern measures to solve problems, to punish defection, and to sanction subordinates who half-heartedly follow his instructions and directions. The critics from religious leaders and harsh responses from government officials only widen the gap between the incompetent governments with the public in general.

Political dynamics in the coming months will not get smoother, even if President SBY could renegotiate coalition contract and put more clauses to prevent defection. The demand for cabinet reshuffle will remain relevant for the loyalists, and thus President SBY must prepare for another political game. The problem with rising oil price that threatens national budget will likely become the time bomb that will inflate internal rifts among coalition members. Then, the deliberation of political laws, especially on the election law and the structure and position of legislative bodies that most likely will put more electoral burdens to medium-size parties, like through the increase of parliamentary threshold and the changes in the range of district magnitude as well as seat allocation procedure, surely can also cause problems. All of these problems have the same root problem, which is the lack of willingness and ability of President SBY to use his authority and popular mandate to govern.